District decides: In-person learning continues at BHS

Superintendent: 'There was really no reason to shut the building down'

By Josh Bickford
Posted 11/20/20

The voicemail was good news.

A student's parent had called Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore to say thanks for the administration's decision to continue in-person learning at …

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District decides: In-person learning continues at BHS

Superintendent: 'There was really no reason to shut the building down'

Posted

The voicemail was good news.

A student's parent had called Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore to say thanks for the administration's decision to continue in-person learning at Barrington High School.

"I've gotten a few emails too," Mr. Messore said during an interview on Friday morning. "I think people are thrilled."

On Thursday afternoon, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced that starting on Nov. 30 school districts across the state had permission to shift to their limited in-person instruction plans, essentially moving most students to distance learning.

The governor gave each district the power to make its own decision on whether to shift learning models.

Just a few hours after Gov. Raimondo's press conference, Barrington school officials sent an email to students' parents stating: "Due to our low COVID positive case numbers, (only 6 in-person staff and students and 4 distance learners have been identified as COVID positive since September), we have opted to remain under our current learning model of the Full In-school phase."

That was welcome news for some parents of high school students. It was also warmly received by educators.

"I think the majority of the teachers in the building are pleased that the district chose to continue the current plan at the high school," said one BHS teacher. "I know that the subject teachers that depend on modeling instruction are very happy. Math, science, computer programming, engineering, even language teachers feel that face-to-face instruction is crucial to student learning. In my department, we dread the possibility of teaching remotely without any in-person learners…"

Mr. Messore said he and the other administrators, including Barrington High School Principal Joe Hurley, focused mainly on "the numbers" when deciding about the teaching model.

"We really have not had the positive cases," Mr. Messore said. "There was really no reason to shut the building down."

The email further explained that if the number of positive cases at Barrington High School was to increase to .5 percent or higher during a 14-day period, or if the district did not have the capacity to safely operate due to the number of staff on quarantine, officials would move to limited in-person learning.

The district offers a spreadsheet tracking the number of Covid-19 positive cases among students, teachers and staff members. At Barrington High School, there have been 10 positive cases identified — that is a cumulative figure for the months of September, October and November. Of those 10 cases, four were distance learners — students who have not been in the building this year.

Mr. Messore said that administrators keep a close eye on the positive cases daily, and also monitor the staffing levels. Officials need to ensure that there are enough teachers — full-time and substitutes — to cover all classes. He said there have been a few occasions where teachers were absent because they needed to go for testing or were at home while their children were tested.

There have been occasions, Mr. Messore said, where the district has decided to move a class or a cluster to distance learning.

"Our number one priority is the health and safety of students and staff," Mr. Messore said, adding that the district's next priority is delivery of education. He said the quality of education improves with in-person learning, but... "virtual education is better than no education."

Parents, meanwhile, are working hard to balance safety concerns with the quality of education.

"My boys are both currently hybrid learners but they have had very mixed results," said the parent of two Barrington High School students. "They really appreciate the small classroom size that hybrid learning affords, but also feel like the teachers are being challenged to teach to two audiences at the same time. On the virtual days they are struggling to successfully submit assignments on the new Canvas platform. I think it’s safe to say that teachers and students alike are being forced to adapt and everyone is giving it their best effort but they all miss full classrooms and robust extracurricular activities.

"I hesitate to pull them from the hybrid model because I believe that face-to-face interaction and healthy classroom dialogue is important for their learning. Socialization is also important for their emotional development, but I am very concerned about COVID and feel that the students and educators are at risk."

The local mom said she was planning to discuss whether to switch to all distance learning with her sons.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.